With the New Year right around the corner, we’ll wave goodbye to the 2010s, a decade filled with ups and (many, many) downs in Oil Country. Let’s jump in the time machine and go back through all of the things that defined this decade of Oilers hockey. Today, we have, among other things, Kevin Lowe’s “types of fans” comment.
Under new head coach Ralph Krueger, the young Oilers showed some improvement from their previous tanking seasons. A five-game winning streak at the end of March and into April brought the team to within a faint chance at reaching the playoffs, but a six-game losing streak immediately after killed that dream.
After yet another failed season, fans demanded change. And they got it — sort of. General manager Steve Tambellini was fired shortly before the end of the season (apparently acquiring Jerred Smithson at the trade deadline wasn’t enough to save him) and the Oilers replaced him with none other than former head coach Craig MacTavish.
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of confusion around this decision. MacTavish had been let go of his gig coaching the team a few years earlier and now he was back again, but, this time, as a general manager? Did he have any experience in the front office? Even though this was technically an external hiring, this was just another Old Boys Club member, right?
With confusion and frustration from the fans and hard questions being thrown by the media, Kevin Lowe was called upon to put out the fire. Unfortunately, rather than an extinguisher, he used kerosine.
First, Lowe pointed out that the Oilers had two different types of fans. There were ones who paid to watch games and ones who didn’t. They cared about both groups, but, ultimately, one mattered and one didn’t.
We have two types of fans: we have paying customers and we have people that watch the game that we still care about but certainly the people that go to the games and support we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message.
After that, he shook his finger at fans who were getting impatient after only three years of rebuilding. He mentioned that fans shouldn’t worry because only one person working in hockey had more Stanley Cup rings than he did.
In terms of the group that messed things up, you’re talking about the group that had a team one period away from winning the Stanley Cup, and you know the cycle of that. You know that we chased a dream for a few years, for our fanbase, like a lot of teams do. And then at some point in that timeframe we realized that’s a bad plan and we made a change. We’re finishing year three of that plan. Are you saying to me you’re getting impatient after three years?
Finally, there was this flex.
And lastly I’ll say, there’s one other guy I believe in hockey today, that is still working in the game, that has won more Stanley Cups than me, so I think I know a little bit about winning if that’s ever a concern.
To be fair, what Lowe was saying wasn’t technically wrong. The business has to worry about its highest-paying customers and the team was only three years into the full-on rebuild. I guess you could say they went into a rebuild after Ryan Smyth was dealt for futures, but they did try to make the playoffs in the following seasons. He also does have more rings than pretty much anybody else, to his credit. But those didn’t come as an executive.
While there was merit behind what Lowe was saying, this was a fanbase that was ready to explode. Loss after loss after loss had mostly defined the previous four seasons, the lockout and the Seattle threat were still fresh in most people’s minds, and nobody was interested in hearing an Old Boys Club member brag about the success they had when they were one of the boys the bus.
One of Craig MacTavish’s first big moves as general manager was to fire up Skype and fire Kreuger. It didn’t seem that Kreuger did a bad job at all, but he was the odd-man-out as the Oilers had a chance to land a high-profile young coach named Dallas Eakins. After doing great work with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, Eakins was regarded as the next up-and-coming coaching prodigy, so he would surely be a great fit with the Oilers’ young roster.
MacT would also sign Andrew Ference, who was later named captain instead of Sam Gagner, and Boyd Gordon in free agency. He also brought back Denis Grebeshkov for a second tour of duty. Shawn Horcoff was dealt to the Dallas Stars as a cap dump and Magnus Paajarvi was shipped to St. Louis for David Perron.
An exciting new coach with new veterans on the roster. It was time for this team to turn a new leaf. The Oilers won just four of their first twenty-one games and the season was over before it even started. It was becoming clear the Oil Change had been stalled and the Oilers needed a hero.